Fifteen thousand inhabitants is the town of Benetúser, province of Valencia. 15,000 people is the maximum capacity of a Mestalla that this Friday returned to normal, or to the maximum normality left by the pandemic. In the last regular game before confinement, 37,410 spectators came to the Ché team field, which is a figure that is handled in that memory that, even in the bad, there were moments of more or less normality that seen from a distance they evoke the melancholy of a time that may return.
There, Betis was beaten, as the Valencianists point out, more memorials (Vicent, for example, who has not yet shed his beard and in closed Valencian he sees “that year and a half of the pandemic as a lost year”). It was then that the pilgrimage of the empty stadiums began, the Ciudad Real Bar closed, the Splash of Manolo’s niece el del Bombo closed, and even the Russian-Spanish real estate company that looks at the portrait of Albelda, closed; with its star offers of apartments in Carcagente for those vaccinated by Sputnik and for the others almost, almost, at a bargain price. And then, upright and in the sun, the so-called Monument to Hobby, with some sticker undone by the sun and by the pandemic and that advocates, as crooked, for the unity of the ‘Catalan Countries’.
Football, as the eternal Sunday engine of a country, he stopped, tempered and returned with the television trick of the chroma and with the intimate stadiums, where even the asphyxiated breathing of the assistant resounded. Because football, here and in Naples, is not only the game: it is the economy that underpins its legend and that survives on the side of a stadium. But one thing was certain: the progressive neglect of football could not have come at a worse time. But it came. As much as a firecracker escaped this Friday in the land of gunpowder.
In the Plaza / Plaça del Valencia CF, in front of the stadium, which looks good at 98 years old, tourists stood guard to see what it was like when they returned to the bleachers: to check with their own flesh if that of the burning seat was true , or also that the girders vibrated despite restrictions and pandemics. In the city of Turia there is resentment among the oldest for what happened in the Pachanga of the Orange Trophy, the day before yesterday, as someone says: a “disastrous day” in which not even the 3,000 seats that were sold were sold. sale and in which the fans, because of the lost human warmth, crowded together without distances or prophylaxis. The memory of those is still fresh 2,500 Valencians who were infected with the coronavirus in San Siro, when, due to obvious circumstances, the Champions League game against Atalanta was played there. And closed the world.
Confidence in the afternoon
The line at the ticket office in the middle of the afternoon gave confidence to those who would like to have confidence, like this in football and in Medical Science. As before the son of Shule, who in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento was kicking orange balls with the bat of the local team and which were vaguely official. Maybe because Shule knows that “football stuff” is part of the city. It is the same hope with which an endowment of the Local Police hung a tape in anticipation of someone double-parking where the authorities should enter. But in line there was a French trio who had seen the Manchester United field to the brim and, taking advantage of Turia passing through Valencia, they understood that an “open stadium is the future.” Neither Boris, Marie nor Audrey (“yes, like Hepburn”) cared much about the Spanish league -or football in general-, but they had been told at the hotel that he had played, that the Generalitat allowed the capacity of the 40%, and there they showed up for their localities.
There is no doubt that they have been the bars, those that in the shadow of Mestalla pay an average of 3,000 euros in taxes annually, those who have suffered the most from this time of uncertainties in the stands. In the Ciudad Real bar, Gabriela made tortillas, sausages, pitanzas, with the fondness of other times and she was confident that yes, that the “football return” had made her “as overwhelmed as she was happy.” Manuel Fernández García, at the time owner of the bar and a native of Ciudad Real, was threading some curtains and with more gestures than words insisted on the nonsense of “paying a lot” for a football that depends on the risk of the Authorities and the question that the “youngsters don’t mess it up”, as they usually do, in the long episode of the epidemic that we’ve already been through. Manuel taught the official Club rates to three Galician waiters and beach handball referees: Christian, Víctor and Santiago, who, being all Celta de Vigo, the last match they attended was a very worthy Braga-Sporting de Lisboa, there in Portugal.
The first league game with a regulated audience -without sociological experiments- left other snapshots: Manolo el del Bombo on the terrace of his old bar looking at a white and marble building in front of him; the same one from which the marker with its two shields and its two bats that are the shield of Valencia can be seen in a glass reflection. Or that of his niece Amparo, custodian of his business, who revealed to us with open eyes that “he cannot explain the happiness” that there is soccer with people. And in any way. Of course, the fact that the spectators return, even jibarized as a number, supposes Amparo a “double job.” In fact, he has invented a system, «a circuit ”, to comply with the capacity and the requirements that the Hospitality Industry needs with that of the distances, the gels, the capacity and its protocols. “It is what it touches,” she admitted excitedly at the mere prospect of a fuss in a “neighborhood that lives off football.”
His uncle Manolo, who knows the fields of the five continents, was resounding with the gradual return of humans to the stadiums of Spain according to regional regulations: “This is good for everyone, it is what we were waiting for. Soccer is the most enriching sport, and it is equally so for everyone ». And while, Manolo spoke with glaucous eyes thinking about who knows what about football from before.
Football from before
Precisely in that soccer dialectic or nothing abounded Iván Olmedo, from the Caudete area, in the province of Albacete. With the elastic with the senyera (Valencian), he boasted of an equally Valencian father. And there he took his friends Antonio and Alfredo to Mestalla, who were neither Valencian nor necessary. They were football fans and it was worth for a day when sport was the least, or the most. For Iván, “football has changed”, but “not forever as many would have us believe.” Nearby, a spy fan commented aloud if a sound technician arrived on the field, or if the wind rolled and cooled. And he gestured, commenting on the peasant style of the coquettish little square. And he changed his flip-flops for nautical ones and entered the stadium who knows how.
Feeling the atmosphere of the beautiful sport was not difficult in this Plaza del Valencia, in which a needy man called out “Kempes, Kempes” and asked for money while a real homeless man was carrying something halfway between a bicycle or a scooter with shields of the teams of those leagues in which neither sheikhs nor bankruptcy proceedings existed. This man, with his cigars, kept a sad silence and drank anything from a cardboard cup. Soccer people. People who live off the ball like the security and control employees of the stadium who carried the equipment (the truncheon) in a backpack where the coercive thing stood out and they drank strong coffee while waiting for the sun that awaited them.
And although Getafe did not carry clubs at an official level, they did see blue shirts under the Mestalla legends. An agent on horseback was lifting a child from Madrid on the rump while two priests, with a beer pipe in hand, tenderly contemplated the scene with bands. And it is that the return of the public to the stadiums, although it is “a double-edged sword”, as the self-employed who sell tobacco in the area claim, left their images. That of drunk British, that of gangs of people who met again. It does not matter if they came from Almansa (Albacete) or from Benimaurell or from the center itself, as did Javier, Manuel or José Matea, with their regulation sandwich at the Valencia CF Soccer Association
At the bus stop 32, a father and a son commented on what they saw of the seats in the “La Mar” stand, which can be seen from the glass canopy that someone smashed with their fists in the past. Down there, Javier, the blind man, sold 69, “which is lucky.” Although Javier is more than stoic about football and fortune: “Because if there is no football, I am going to other neighborhoods.”
Paul, Arnau, Alex and others came from Vic, complained about the heat and entered the stadium late with Adidas, Valencia and even the Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys. At the first league game with an audience, everyone was entertained more than was advisable in the pregame ritual.